February 15, 2007
State Legislator asks Bredesen to pardon death row inmate
By Jared Allen, Nashville City Paper
In what state officials are describing as a rare - if not altogether
unprecedented - move, a sitting state legislator has formally asked Gov.
Phil Bredesen to pardon a man on death row.
Late last month, State Rep. Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory, wrote Bredesen a
letter in which the third-term House member asked the governor to pardon
Paul House, 45, who in 1986 was convicted of murdering Carolyn Muncey.
In an interview Tuesday, Turner said he has taken it upon himself to
intervene on House's behalf because he is fearful that House, who suffers
from multiple sclerosis, will die before the judicial system acts and orders
a new trial.
But Turner may not be alone. In fact, Turner said he has spent the last few
weeks quietly lobbying a number of his colleagues to join him in asking the
governor to pardon a man who the U.S. Supreme Court last June said likely
would have been acquitted had exonerating DNA evidence been presented to a
"I am convinced that the courts in their deliberations will eventually free
Paul, but the legal process is slow and he is already under a sentence of
death as he is a very sick man," Turner wrote in his June 30 letter to
"What a shame and what a blemish it would be upon our great state to have an
innocent man die in prison," the letter continued. "I would respectfully ask
you to pardon Paul House and send him home to his family."
House's case has been described as one of the more unusual capital cases to
ever come through the Tennessee court system.
In 1986, House was convicted of Muncey's murder after prosecutors proved to
a jury that House raped Muncey before bludgeoning her to death in order to
cover up the rape. However, DNA evidence cast such a shadow over the rape
allegations that last June the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that "had the jury
heard all the conflicting testimony - it is more likely than not that no
reasonable juror viewing the record as a whole would lack reasonable doubt."
That ruling opened the door for House to pursue a new trial, but the federal
court system - most notably the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, House's
supporters say - have been slow to allow a continuation of post-conviction
And in the meantime, House's health continues to deteriorate, say those
involved in his appeals process.
Not only is it Turner's hope that the Gov. Bredesen will use his pardoning
power, the legislator also hopes that a broad coalition of his colleagues
will join him in lobbying the governor.
"Regardless of where you're at on the capital punishment debate, the courts
have said that no reasonable juror would have voted to convict this man,"
Turner said on Tuesday. "And yet here he is, languishing on death row while
we're waiting for the Sixth Circuit to make it's mind up as to whether or
not we're going to retry him."
Turner also said he hopes that public pressure - in addition to political
pressure - will draw more attention to the House case.
"I don't think the general public really realizes that this is as much of an
issue as it is," Turner said. "I think most people are thinking 'Well, you
know, the system will fix this.' But clearly the system does not always work
Bredesen's office confirmed that the governor had received Turner's letter.
"The governor is very aware of the matter and is reviewing the situation,"
Bredesen spokeswoman Lydia Lenker wrote in an e-mail to The City Paper.
A number of individuals, including House's mother, Joyce House, have also
written Bredesen asking for a pardon.
But Turner was one of a number of state officials - including in the
governor's office - to say they could not recall an instance in which a
member of the State Legislature had made such a request.
Lenker said that to the best of the governor's office's knowledge, Bredesen
has never received a pardon request from a sitting legislator.
House's federal public defender, Stephen Kissinger, said the request was
news to him, but certainly welcome news.
"Any party, any citizen - particularly one so prominent - taking an interest
in Mr. House's case is certainly welcome news," Kissinger said.
Kissinger agreed with Turner that a pardon is not only appropriate, but also
"As the Supreme Court has already found, there is zero chance that Mr. House
will be convicted," should he receive a new trial, Kissinger said Tuesday.
"So is Mr. House supposed to spend 30 years on death row for a crime he
didn't commit just so the state can have a theoretical opportunity to
convict him? Because that's not justice," Kissinger continued. "If we're
going to have a new trial let's have it today."
And Kissinger said the unusual circumstances of the legislator's request
"speaks to the clarity of Mr. House's innocence and the strength of his
case, and also speaks well of the people who are joining in this effort."
"One thing that supporters as well as opponents of the death penalty can
agree on is that we don't want innocent people convicted," Kissinger said.
"I'm certainly pleased that people are willing to take this very public step
to ask for a pardon."
Source : Nashville City Paper